Saturday, January 31, 2009

Busy Day Dinner

My Beloved and I tend to eat dinner on the early side, around 6:30 or 7:00; we are not the sophisticated sort who dine at 8:30 or later. However, when he has one of his sales managers in town, it's hard to predict what time he'll be home for dinner. The sales managers are all nice guys but some like to stop for a drink at sunset after a busy day, others prefer to hole up in their hotel rooms and get a little more work done. When MB sags through the door around 7:30pm, I know it's a good night for a quick dinner of poached eggs.

This time, I had a special treat ready. When I made duxelles earlier, I made extra so I'd have some on hand. Duxelles are an easy way to raise a ho-hum dinner into a pretty spiffy one. I just heated the duxelles in a small pan while the English muffins and the eggs cooked, spooned a little of their dark magic over the hot muffin halves and topped them with the eggs. We sat down to a mushroomy, shalloty dinner less than 15 minutes later and just minutes after that, he was flaked out on the bed, ready to relax for the rest of the evening.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Pizza and the Joy of Dining with Grown Children

My Beloved has two delightful daughters, one who lives in Boston with her handsome husband and our granddaughter, the so-adorable Mia, and one who had the superior sense to stay locally in the Bay are where we can sometimes hook up for a meal and a visit, as we did last weekend.

Katie and her squeeze, Adam, who used to manage a pizza parlor, made cornmeal crust pizzas for us that were out of this world. We had three to choose from so I had a slice of each - luckily, these were 8" pizzas so my gluttony was somewhat contained.

The first had a combination of homemade tomato sauce, goat cheese, basil and asparagus - an inspired choice. Next, I sampled the fresh mushroom pizza, also with a layer of the tomato sauce. The third was a traditional melding of mozzarella and tomato.

By the end of the evening, I was soliciting the recipe for the cornmeal crust from Adam and he kindly emailed it to me the next day. I'm including it here along with his warning that he does it by memory so the measurements may be a little approximate. It's worth the risk - go for it!

Corn Meal Pizza Dough, compliments of Adam

1) Start with 2 packs of fast acting Fleishman's yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Put a tablespoon of sugar in the water and add the yeast and stir. Let this sit until a foam develops on the top.

2) In another bowl add roughly 2 cups flour and 1/4 cup coarse ground corn meal.

3) When the foam develops on the yeast water pour it into the flour and cornmeal mix along with 1 tablespoon olive oil

4) Mix this up and it should be a wet mix

5) Throw some flour out onto the counter to prevent the dough from sticking and dump your bowl out on to the flour

6) Knead the dough, mixing thoroughly and adding water and flour as needed
If the dough starts to break jaggedly, you have too much cornmeal in it and need to add some more flour; if the dough sticks to your hands you need to add some more flour; if the dough is tough add more water.

7) Separate the dough into 1 or 2 balls depending on what size pizza you want to make. Generally speaking a dough ball unrisen 2" in diameter will make a pizza crust about 6".

8) Let the dough sit somewhere warm for about 20 minutes with a damp towel over it.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

9) Once the dough has risen begin your crust; the cornmeal makes it a little harder to work than a normal flour dough so spread it out by your fingertips rather than tossing it. .First form the crust edge and then slowly work towards the middle working the dough to an even shape and thickness.

10) Spread a little olive oil on some foil and sprinkle with cornmeal.

11) Put the pizza dough on top of the oiled foil and then add sauce and toppings. Olive oil on the crust will help it retain more moisture and crisp the edges.

12) Put the foil right onto the oven rack. Depending on the toppings it will take anywhere from 15-20 minutes for a 6" diameter pizza, 20-25 for a 12". Check the center of the pizza first to see if the crust has crisped yet; that's what will take the longest.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doo Wop Dinner

My Beloved donned his football letter sweater. I wished I still had my penny loafers. What else does one wear to a Doo Wop concert if one doesn't have a poodle skirt?

Our pals Janie and Jack had invited us to join them to hear several Doo Wop groups from the 'fifties and early 'sixties, so we put on our glad rags and joined them for an early dinner before the concert at McInnis Park Club Restaurant in San Rafael.

I must confess that my expectations were fairly low for this dinner but I'm not sure why. I have eaten there before and had good food. I ordered the "Asian Beef" after inquiring what that meant and received one of the liveliest, juiciest cuts of teriyaki steak it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy!

This picture doesn't do justice to the creamy-but-not-heavy cole slaw, the truly-dreamy mashed potatoes and the cooked-to-perfection teriyaki steak. A slightly more elegant version of a Hawaiian plate lunch. I ate every single bite, complimented the chef, gathered up my hunky football jock and headed off to tap my toe to some lively music from my youth.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Salut Mes Copains!

Is there anything quite so satisfying as getting together with girlfriends one has known most of one's life?

These are women who have known me since I was fifteen and we were all dropped into a French boarding school. Bonnie and I went to high school together later, too, and Sunny hosted my wedding nearly 10 years ago. We go 'way back.

We reunited a number of years ago after years apart and within minutes were laughing and sharing stories as if we had never been separated. We can tell each other our darkest, spiciest secrets without fear, giggle over youthful (and not-so-youthful) indiscretions, get advice about knotty problems, sound off on political topics, share pictures of our grandchildren, commiserate over wrinkles and spreading waistlines - and we "get" each others' jokes. We rotate visiting each others' houses; this time, we went to Bonnie's house and enjoyed lunch while we chatted.

Bonnie is a vegetarian, one of those who chooses vegetarianism not for one single reason but for several good and sensible ones, but sometimes strays from the pure path. I never know when I visit her house if she will be feeding me bean sprouts and wheat grass or animal flesh, but I always know it will be delicious.

This time, she was on the vegetarian wagon again and she prepared the only dish containing tofu that I have ever truly enjoyed, Tofu Marbella. A combination of unusual ingredients, it was sweet and savory at the same time, an inspired melding of flavors that I will actually make again one of these days. From a devout carnivore, that's saying something! I begged for the recipe to share with you.

I'm not sure which was better food, the Tofu Marbella or the soul food I get every time I spend time with these two delicious friends. I am lucky to have both.

Tofu Marbella, adapted by Anne Rolke* from the Silver Palate Cookbook

3/4 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives, rinsed to remove the salt
1/2 head garlic, peeled and finely minced or pressed (7-8 cloves)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup capers with a little of the juice
1 Tbs. dried oregano
3 bay leaves
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 pounds firm (Bonnie used extra firm) tofu, cut into bite-size cubes (drain the water and press slightly)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbs. chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro

In a large bowl, combine prunes, olives, garlic, vinegar, oil, capers and juice, oregano, bay leaves, and pepper and salt to taste. Gently fold in the tofu and make sure it is well coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least six hours (this is essential to achieve the deep, sweet flavor).

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Arrange tofu in a single layer in two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle tofu pieces with sugar and pour wine around them. Bake for 40-50 minutes, basting occasionally with pan juices. Tofu should be nicely browned and flavorful.

With a slotted spoon, transfer tofu, prune pieces, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Serve over fluffy rice.

*Ms. Rolke notes that each of the 6 servings has 286 calories, 13 gm fat, 13 gm protein, 32 gm carbohydrate, 3 gm fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, and 189 mg sodium.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mismatched Lunch

Leftover shrimp soup and a Swiss cheese omelet with duxelles made for a mismatched lunch.

The flavors, however, were great together. The soup had gotten tastier and a little spicier overnight. I lifted the shrimp from the broth while it reheated, as they didn't need any more cooking, then slid them back in to serve and added a big squirt of fresh lime juice. The duxelles paired wonderfully with the Swiss cheese in the omelet, bringing an earthy note to the nutty cheese.

Oh, baby! The china may have been as mismatched as the food but the whole meal was a smooth symphony.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Sopa de Camarones

This bowl of soup, brimming with fragrant broth, nearly a dozen good-sized shrimp plus a plethora of chunky vegetables and a spritz of sprightly lime juice, was the perfect antidote to a gray, misting California winter day. I enjoyed it, or rather half of it, at Cazuelas Grill, a no-nonsense Mexican food restaurant in, of all places, the Hilltop Mall in Richmond.

Hilltop is a sprawling shopping center on the shaved-flat crest of a hill surrounded with brand new housing tracts and apartment complexes and ringed with so many empty acres of blacktop that it would make a great place to teach a kid to drive. I have never been there when even a quarter of the spaces are filled - one wonders how they can keep the place going. They have tenants like JC Penney and Macy's but I think the store that really brings 'em in is Cazuelas. It's a fun place to meet Cookiecrumb and Cranky for a quick bite and a visit.

The soup could have been improved in three ways. First, the shrimp should have been shelled, at least down to the tails. Second, the veggies were pretty soft and should have been cooked a bit less to leave them more integrity. Third, the shrimp should have been slipped into the broth for just the last few minutes as they were a bit rubbery. Still, you'd hardly have guessed that these shoulds were running through my mind if you'd been at the table watching me eagerly spoon up the rich, tasty broth. There was so much, I brought home half to share with My Beloved, who had been there just minutes before we arrived and missed us. Rats!

I've had the posole there and now the sopa de camarones - I can recommend either one to fortify a California wuss for the rest of an afternoon of errands and chores.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Handmade Gifts

When I was a child, I always wanted to have enough money to buy expensive gifts for my mother. As Christmas or birthdays approached, I would take my meager allowance down to the Navy Exchange and gaze through the jewelry case, hoping for something wonderful, glittery and affordable for a woman who I knew loved jewelry.

There was never anything affordable and, truth be told, she didn't need anything from the Exchange, as she already had heirloom jewelry from her grandmother and my Dad added on a regular basis to her collection of sparkly things. But, I always wished for enough money to buy her a really impressive gift, as if that would somehow prove my love for her. When I would wish for that aloud, she would always say, "Give me something you have made yourself; handmade gifts are the best." I'd nod and pretend to agree, still secretly and stubbornly convinced that store-bought was better.

Sometime over the years I absorbed her philosophy and, as I grew wiser as well as taller, I learned to value homemade gifts the most. Fast forward to yesterday, when I opened my pantry door looking for something to go with my cottage cheese and found a jar of homemade apple butter that Molly had given me more than a year ago. I have posted about this strange combination before, but had to mention it again, both because of Molly's generosity and because of the excellence of her apple butter.

Molly's is a lighter, spicier apple butter than I have had before, a little runny so just a spoonful decorates a satisfyingly large scoop of cottage cheese. She uses either different spices or nicer combinations that most - this stuff is highly addictive! Sitting down to a bowlful, I could hear my mother's voice extolling the virtues of handmade gifts, and was grateful.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rooting for Winter

Okay, I promised to try new things in this new year, so here's the first one I bought with my new resolution, celery root or celeriac.

First, I made the semi-successful salad I posted about yesterday. Now, I wanted to try roasting it since all roast veggies seem to be wunderbar and Morgan commented a few days back that celery root makes a nice mash, too, so I used one quarter to roast with our boneless leg of lamb and kept the other quarter out to boil for a mash.

Both were really delicious! The mash doesn't get as smooth as mashed potatoes, which I really rather liked; it keeps a bit of its integrity so the "mouth feel" is bumpy and interesting while the flavor is mild and a little sweet. I mashed it simply with a little butter, some half and half, and s&p - another time, I might add some broccoli to the mash for a little extra flavor.

The roast celery root was even better, I think partly because it was so easy. I just cut up small wedges of the celeriac and roasted them along with some Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes, lightly coated with olive oil, right in the same pan as the roast. They turned an appealing shade of golden brown on the edges and were even sweeter as the oven concentrated the flavor.

If you haven't ever tried celery root, you might enjoy adding it to your repertoire, too. It's pretty mild and non-threatening; I'm thinking it would make a really interesting soup, too.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Midwinter Crunch

I'm not a huge salad lover at the best of times and midwinter is my nadir for salad consumption. I love the jumble of fresh ingredients in a summer salad but the same ingredients either taste lousy when not in season or just don't appeal to my taste buds when the weather is cool. So, when I saw a recipe for a salad using a wintery vegetable like celeriac, it piqued my interest.

I followed Molly's January 5th recipe over at Orangette, carefully julienning the crisp celery root and mixing the dressing, but somewhere along the way, I must have gone astray as mine just sort of laid there, instead of standing up and shouting from the plate.

The celeriac was satisfyingly crunchy but my sauce was too heavy and too much. Next time, I'd add much more lemon juice and increase the yogurt-to-mayo ratio strongly in favor of the yogurt, plus I'd add more Dijon mustard to the mix. It has the promise of a great winter salad, once I tweak the ingredients. Molly said, "to taste," and I should have followed that advice. Next time, my taste will be more lemony-lively-tangy-sassy to perk up this lovely winter salad.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Last Bite

I have been in the habit, ever since I was a small child, of saving the best bite of dinner for last. I love ending a meal with the savoriest, tastiest bit on my plate, a sort of gustatorial "ta-da!" that rounds out the experience.

My problem last night was deciding which was the best bite of these two killer offerings, the lively lemon shrimp or the slightly spicy roasted broccoli from the recipe I found on The Wednesday Chef and loved.

Maybe this isn't a decision bearing the gravitas of finding peace in the Middle East or solving the worldwide financial crisis that is daily shrinking my retirement funds (that's what we have a fine, young President for), but in my little life, it was a biggie - and impossible to resolve. So, I cut both in half, loaded a bit of each onto my fork, and enjoyed two eye-rolling last bites. TA-DA!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Simple OMG Will Do

Every now and then, the interweb brings an idea that spreads like wildfire. I'll get emails from friends with offers to make a poster of myself in the Obama style and several of my friends will have discovered and done it. Or I'll receive exhortations to view a hilarious YouTube video about a skateboarding bulldog and more than one of my pals will have alerted me to this bit of silly fun. Expressions like LOL fly around the world in a flash. And, best of all, sometimes a dynamite new recipe will appear on one of the blogs I follow, and it will be spread to everyone I know in less than the time it takes to tell it.

I predict the wildfire spread for this recipe. Click this link to The Wednesday Chef and read the drool-worthy words that Luisa has written about Melissa Clark's roasted shrimp and broccoli, then Try This Recipe!

It is simplicity itself, using only a very few ingredients and coming together lightning fast, but it is the best thing we have tasted in months. My Beloved and I literally gobbled our dinners, only raising our heads at the end to look at each other in awestruck amazement. A simple OMG will do.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

O, Happy Day!

In anticipation of the Inauguration, I have hung not one, not two, but three full-sized American flags on my house. For the first time in a very long time, I am feeling celebratory about an inauguration.

Thank you, Mr. Obama, for this hopeful, happy, anticipatory feeling. Best of luck in a thankless but important job!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Dueling Peelers

My Beloved's daughters, knowing how much I enjoy cooking, gave me this new square peeler for Christmas this year. When I bought a nice, round, bumpy, dirty celeriac bulb this week, I decided to try out the new peeler to see if it was in any way superior to my tried-and-true style with the metal handle and if it could hold its own against a simple kitchen knife.

As I discovered, celeriac is just short of impossible to peel, no matter what kind of implement one uses. It is bumpy, ridgy, heavy, awkwardly sized and thoroughly uncooperative. However, I had made a resolution to try new foods this year and I had a delicious-sounding recipe to make with it (more about that later), so I got out my arsenal of peelers and got to work.

The new peeler shone. The knife was next to useless on this very round, grapefruit-sized, unwieldy vegetable and my old peeler kept slipping dangerously with each swipe, so the new peeler, which fits in the palm of my hand with a slip ring on top to keep it securely around one finger, worked the best. Now, I'm not saying that it was easy - that would be disrespectful to the stubbornly recalcitrant nature of the celeriac - but the new peeler was the smoothest and safest, and in no time I had a flurry of grimy celeriac flakes and a clean, white globe to show for my work.

If someone is looking for a great little stocking stuffer for you next year, I can recommend the victor in the peeler shootout.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chocolate Burrito?

True to their name, my burrito at Cafe Cacao had a little chocolate in it. Makes sense, as it's in the Scharrfen Berger chocolate factory in Emeryville.

My chicken burrito was amply stuffed with big chicken pieces, wrapped in a spinach tortilla, topped with avocado, rocket and green beans, and sprinkled with a little dry cheese. But, best of all was the mole-style sauce that was poured over it, rendering it juicy, flavorful and tasting of chocolate, chilis and something else indefinably Mexican.

Nice. Fresh. And what's not to like about chocolate for brunch?

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dux Redux

After making the Sauce Duxelles for our steak, I had about half a cup of duxelles left, so I decided to use it in a roast chicken - they didn't have a Cornish hen at my market that day, darn it! The leftovers would have been the perfect amount for a Cornish hen.

Oh, well. After rinsing and drying the chicken, I gently loosened the skin over the breast and patted the duxelles into place over the breast meat. If I'd had a bit more, I'd have done the legs, too.

Hawaiian red salt, freshly ground pepper, olive oil baste, lemon cut in half, squeezed over the top, tucked inside, roast in a 350 oven for an hour, baste twice, rest on the cutting board, yadda yadda.

Sliced with a hint of crispy skin and a layer of duxelles, the breast meat was out of this world, truly an explosion of rich mushroomy/oniony/chickeny flavor concentrated by the oven.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Duxe Luxe

Rummaging around in the crisper drawer, I found a bag of aging mushrooms, a few green onions and a handful of nice shallots to go with our London broil, so I asked My Beloved if he'd like duxelles with his steak.

"What's duxelles?" he asked.

After nearly 10 years of marriage and 13 years together, I was surprised he had never had them. They are easy to make and really enhance with their buttery richness a lean cut of beef like London broil.

I minced one green onion, two large shallots and about 10 small, fresh mushrooms (you can use just about any proportions that you like) and sauteed in generous butter first the shallot and green onion until soft, adding the mushrooms later. The mushroom mixture cooked together for about 10 minutes on medium heat, until the water released by the mushrooms had evaporated and the mushrooms were a little browned/caramelized, then added a splash of red wine.*

The wine had been a gift from one of My Beloved's sales managers and all-around nice guy, Jim, whom we invited for dinner last week. Jim brought this wine, an "Au Bon Climat" 2006 Pinot Noir, as a hostess gift and it was simply delicious, lighter and clearer than many pinots and very tasty. We drank all but about half a cup of the wine - too little for a glass and much too nice to throw away, so it made a super addition to my version of Sauce Duxelles. After reducing the wine by half, I added just a teaspoonful of creme fraiche to the sauce, stirred it in and drizzled some of the sauce over the rare steak.

Served alongside some Swiss chard that had been butter steamed with more shallots, it made a feast fit for a king or, more properly, for the Marquis d'Uxelles for whom the sauce was named.

*You can freeze duxelles, too, so I sometimes make a big batch when mushrooms are on special and freeze them in small packages for quick use later.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Purloined Grapefruit

At the end of my street is a house with a grapefruit tree. All last year, I watched the ripe fruit drop and roll down our steep hill, bruised, neglected and unwanted, until it stopped who knows where. Apparently, the owners are not grapefruit lovers like me.

So, this week while I was chasing my AWOL Cora all over the neighborhood, I saw one of those lovely grapefruits in the gutter and I picked it up.

Thus begins my life of crime. I didn't knock to find out if they wanted it. I didn't ask any of the neighbors. I just took it home, cut it in half, sectioned it with my mother's sublime grapefruit knife and enjoyed every guilty bite. I didn't add anything - it was perfect as it came.
It was tart and tangy and oh, so delicious, even with a bruise on its little round bottom.

Next time my dog takes it on the lam, I'm going to look for more illicit fruit. I might ask if those neighbors are out in the yard but otherwise I'll just liberate it. I've become a leathery, hardened grapefruit thief.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I love the Zen saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." I have worked in colleges for all my professional life and I find it to be absolutely true. It is only when the student feels the need to know that the lessons sink in.

I think I was ready for this advice:

Be Adventurous

Eating is like a great odyssey and you are surely missing out if you’re not willing to try new things. Each time you go shopping, try and find something new that you haven’t tried before. If you don’t know how to eat or prepare your new finds, ask for assistance. Often, people are more than willing to help if you just ask them a simple question. Also, don’t be afraid to modify any dishes that you like to suit your personal tastes.

This was written by a woman named Holly McCarthy, who was a recent guest on Katie's blog, Thyme for Cooking, one of my daily favorites. I enjoy cooking and especially feeding my loved ones, but I have to admit that I'm not a very adventurous cook. If I make something unusual, it's as much by accident or thrift as for the pleasure of trying new tastes or textures.

So, I've decided to take Holly's advice and try one new thing each time I go shopping. I haven't eaten kale since my mother forced it on us as kids; maybe it's time to try it again. I've never known what to do with tomatillos; I'm going to buy some soon. I bought a softball-sized celeriac at the store today; stay tuned for whatever I find to do with that!

Maybe all I needed to cure my food blog blahs is some new material to work with and a little mental readiness to experiment.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Brown Meal

Last Friday, I got a hot tip about an artist's talk in the city from Nancy who writes Chez NamasteNancy, a fun blog about the arts scene in San Francisco. After an excellent artist's talk by Ala Ebtekar, a student I met when I worked at the San Francisco Art Institute, at the wonderful San Francisco Center for the Book, My Beloved and I met our friend the Evil Empress and her Guy at Lulu's for a bite to eat. MB and I shared this dish, Lamb Bolognese, a rich concoction of braised lamb chunks over pappardelle pasta and topped with soft, fresh cheese.

It was delicious. It was brown. But the very best thing about it was the noodles, as thin as our wallets in a Bush administration and oh-so-delicate, they were downright silky and gently flavorful. I could eat noodles like this forever. A great evening made up of equal parts of aesthetic appreciation, good friends and killer noodles.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

What Can Brown Do For You?

Roast pork tenderloin, roast fingerling potatoes with my Christmas present of Hawaiian red salt and roast cauliflower, while composing a hearty winter meal, don't make a very colorful plate. Even the homemade applesauce I served with it didn't improve the color palette much. Kind of a UPS meal - brown.

Shoulda punched it up with a garnish of some kind, or served a green veggie instead. Maybe some clementine sections would have made an interesting addition.
Next time.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yankee Tostada

Okay, I'll admit it - I'm desperate for content. Having written 510 blog posts, I'm all out of ideas and I don't feel much like cooking, much less innovating, so I'm in big trouble. I found it interesting to learn that my capacity for food blogging topped out at 510, but I'm really not ready to stop, just stumped for a topic that seems interesting.

Luckily, I have this one more ace in the hole, the tostada appetizer I enjoyed at the River Tavern in Chester, CT and forgot to tell you about. It was delicious, but taking you back three weeks to CT seems a bit like cheating.

In the past when visiting the East, I never, ever ordered Mexican food because it was always atrocious. It seemed as though Easterners just didn't "get" Mexican food. In Rochester, NY where I lived for 20+ years, we always waited with bated breath for our trips to California to visit my first husband's parents, sometimes seemingly as much for the good Mexican and Chinese food as for contact with the parental units.

Now, however, the Mexican vibe has hit Connecticut. This corn tortilla was layered with roast pulled pork and all the traditional toppings of chopped onion, tomato, avocado and crisp lettuce, spiced up with fresh cilantro, hot sauce and a big squirt of lime juice. Maybe it wasn't exactly adventurous eating but it was excellent and a welcome change from New England fare.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Toy for Pepper Boy

My Beloved loves me - and pepper - in just about equal proportions. Some people salt food before ever tasting it - MB is guilty of peppering it before even lifting his fork.

So, you can imagine the envy he felt when he saw one of these at his daughter's house, a battery-powered pepper mill that extrudes coarse pepper with the push of a button - and actually lights the plate so you can see just how much too much pepper he is putting on his food!

Santa brought him one for Christmas - or perhaps it was Santa's elves - his two daughters, son-in-law and granddaughter. He is tickled pink with his new toy, gleefully grinding and grinning.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sole + Survivor

Having scored some right-out-of-the-ocean fresh local petrale sole at the market, I then wondered what to do with it. It's a very mild-mannered fish, delicate and light, so it needs a little jazzing up but it gets lost if too much other stuff is added.

Did some online research for recipes but nothing seemed to appeal until I remembered I had a single chicken apple sausage in the fridge left over from a previous meal and, somehow, that combination rang a bell with me.

I put some fingerling potatoes in to roast while I chopped the sausage and sauteed it in a wide pan with a big squeeze of lemon juice and a generous grinding of fresh pepper, then added a handful of green beans to saute along with the sausage. When the beans were nearly ready, I pushed all that to one side and lightly sauteed the fish in the same pan for just a minute or two per side. Piled onto a warmed plate with those fingerlings on the side and a few bright cherry tomatoes for color, it turned into an unexpected feast of sole plus survivor.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yes, Please!

Each new dog who enters my life teaches me about her preferences for food. What was heaven for one dog is so-so to another but, as my sister says, dogs will usually eat anything when they are truly hungry. When I ask if they want some dinner, they answer, "Yes, please!" with wagging tails and happy grins.

I have always fed my dogs Science Diet dog food, having gotten a tip about it from my friend Wenirs when as an adult I got my first puppy, Daisy, a Springer spaniel. Daisy loved Science Diet and wolfed her portions so fast that we ended up having to put rocks in her bowl just to slow her down - otherwise, she would whoops on the carpet (always on the carpet, never on the easily cleaned bare floor) shortly after.

My next dog Tillie, also a Springer, was very fond of poultry (she was a bird dog, after all, and "pointed" the Thanksgiving turkey each year). Chica, a lovable mutt who strayed into my heart one day was thrilled with any food I gave her, almost pathetically grateful for having found a good home. They both got mostly Science Diet and they ate it with gusto.

Then came Cora. She did me the courtesy of sniffing her bowl of dry Science Diet before turning away.

No, thank you.

So, I added a little water, something that worked like a champ with all my other dogs.

Well, acceptable, perhaps, but not great. After two days of lackluster appetite, she turned resolutely away from that, too. Cousin J-Yah has a yellow lab, Mia, and J-Yah mixes just a little chicken broth with the dog food to whet Mia's appetite. So, I went to my cupboard and tried that:

"Now you're talking!"

She happily crunches her way through SD, but only when mixed with chicken broth.

This evening, looking for a quick and easy dinner after a day of errands, chores and catering to My Beloved who has wrenched his knee, I decided to fry some bacon for fried egg sandwiches. Guess who showed up the instant the bacon package came out of the fridge? She hung around all during the cooking, gazing hopefully from the pan to me and back to the pan. I've been wondering what mix of breeds I have gotten in Cora. Clearly, there's border collie or perhaps Australian shepherd in there, with a bit of some bird dog (she intently watches all birds she encounters) but now I see clearly that what I have is an American Bacon Hound, not a particularly rare breed, but very lovable.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Duck Bacon

Since we've been having lovely weather for ducks - chilly, foggy and rainy - I thought I'd chat today about the duck bacon we tried a short while back.

Cruising the supermarket aisles in Connecticut (have you ever noticed how hard it is to shop in an unfamiliar store?), we spied a package of this bacon nestled next to the regular pork bacon and decided to give it a ride home. We cooked it like, well, bacon and served it alongside eggs - obviously we weren't feeling terribly creative.

It was just ducky, bacon times two, richly smoky and just plain rich. The flavor was not much different than pork bacon, just more so. I didn't get to save the fat as we weren't at home but I'm sure it would have made a tasty addition to some wonderful dishes.

I'll bet you can think of some interesting applications for this product - care to share?

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Sunday, January 4, 2009


This little guy is a treasure that I liberated from my Belle-Mere's kitchen when I was packing it up. I was on the fence about whether to put olive oil or dish soap in it, but My Beloved said, "Oh, oil, surely!" so oil it is.

Kind of a fun way to think of her each day.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Champagne Celebration

We skipped our New Year's eve celebration in favor of keeping Cora company in case the fireworks startled her. We need not have worried. We all watched the ball come down in Times Square and slept peacefully through the rest of the night.

So, when My Beloved read about $20.09 (get it?) lobster dinners at the Hotel Mac, it seemed a fine time to have our celebration just a few days late.

We started with a split of French champagne to accompany our lobster dinners and, because it was a Friday, they were having a half-price special, bringing the price of a $38 split to a reasonable $19 or so. This is nice champagne, too, round and soft with zillions of tiny bubbles to tickle ones fancy.

The Hotel Mac seems to specialize in the kind of nostalgic dishes that I remember from the '50s and early '60s. It's a great place for steaks, chops and "surf and turf" style eating, except the vegetables are always perfectly cooked, something I don't recall from my salad days.

My Beloved notes that his escargot on mushroom caps were among the best he had ever tasted; I'm a little squeamish about snails but I can attest to the excellence of the ocean of butter they were cooked in, strongly laced with minced garlic and fresh chopped herbs. Dipping their nicely sour French bread into the butter was more than enough appetizer for me.

Our lobster tails were broiled and served on top of the shells, accompanied by green beans with shallots and mashed potatoes that had been lightly fried so they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Drawn butter - that's what it's really all about, right? - with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and you have a New Year's feast fit for a king.

This special continues this weekend both Saturday and Sunday (although the champagne won't be half price), so if you're in the area, on a budget and looking for a sumptuous dinner, I can recommend the Hotel Mac.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Sky

We've been having very foggy weather here in Richmond the past three days with the sun only burning briefly through around 1pm each day, then quickly ducking back under the clouds. What looks like a sunset is actually about a 3pm sky on New Year's day when the sun shone perfectly round through the fog and painted a glowing stripe across the bay.

I drove to Berkeley, about five miles away, and the sun was shining in a blue sky. Microclimates. Go figure.

At least it was beautiful in its own mysterious way.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Inspired Addition

After an emotionally draining morning closing My Beloved's mother's apartment, he treated me to lunch in tiny Chester, CT at the River Tavern. Chester has changed from the blue collar mill town of my girlhood, where the now-defunct Otto's was the local eatery serving plate-sized, thin-cut steaks for a song, to a weekend getaway town for New York celebs such as Morely Safer. The food at the River Tavern is far more sophisticated than Otto's was, but I enjoyed each in its own way.

As it was a cold, cloudy, raw winter day, I ordered the butternut squash soup as soon as we arrived and was agreeably surprised when it arrived at the table almost immediately.

The soup was lovely. There was a little spicy heat to the mellowness of the squash - I don't know what the chef added but it was perfect - and it was garnished with one-inch squares of bacon (we've already established that bacon improves everything), a sprinkling of cilantro and a drizzle of truffle oil, all laudable additions, but what really set it apart was the grating of Grand Padano cheese in the center of the bowl.

Grand Padano is similar to Parmesan cheese, but a little rounder and richer. It's savoriness added an unexpected note in a familiar dish and raised it above the ordinary. I would not have thought to add cheese to butternut squash soup, but I'm glad the chef did. A great warmer for a cold, sad day.

Happy New Year! Aren't you glad 2008 is gone? I am!

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